Asexual Myths & Tales

Monday, 15 September 2014

It's time for Evelina!


It's that time of year (in Britain, anyway) when, as the nights start to draw in, drama makes a welcome return to our TV screens, especially costume drama.  Within the last week, we have had The Village (1920s), The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (Victorian), Houdini (late C19th-early C20th), Our Zoo (1930s), and Cilla (1960s), and Sunday sees the return of the all-conquering Downton Abbey.

Many costume dramas are based on books.  I am still anticipating (with equal amounts of excitement and dread) the promised adaptation of my favourite historical fantasy of all time, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.  I would venture to suggest that the two most adapted authors are Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.  Dickens, of course, was prolific.  He wrote 15 novels, plus novellas and short stories.  Jane Austen only wrote six completed, adult novels (there are examples of unfinished novels and juvenilia).  But this doesn't seem to prevent more and more Austen adaptations coming out each year, including spin-offs like Becoming Jane, Lost in Austen and Death Comes to Pemberley.  People love Jane Austen.  They love the idea of passions burning away behind restrained manners and social convention.  They love a hero like Mr Darcy, a gentleman in every sense of the word, who acts with honour and discretion, and ultimately whisks you away to live in a stately home.

Given our love of the Austen style of storytelling, it amazes me that no one has thought to dramatise the works of her forerunner, Fanny Burney, and in particular Burney's wonderful first novel, Evelina.  I first came across Evelina as a university set text, and every time I read it, I become just as emotionally swept up in it as I was the time before.  To me, Fanny Burney is, "Jane Austen before Jane Austen".  She was undoubtedly an influence on the young Jane.  Evelina contains many of the same themes and motifs as Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility: class snobbishness, navigating a complex world of etiquette, emotionally charged moments at balls, embarrassing relatives, a seductive suitor (called Willoughby!) and a gallant and sensible hero, the lovely Lord Orville.  But it has a bit more action in it than Jane Austen typically puts in her novels.  Who could read Evelina and ever forget the fake highway robbery, the attempted suicide, or indeed the bizarre race between two old ladies?

First published in 1778, Evelina is an epistolary novel (ie written in the form of letters between the characters) told mainly from the viewpoint of 16-year-old Evelina Anville.  Evelina has been disowned by her aristocratic father and brought up in the countryside by a vicar, but now she must enter the world of fashionable society where, not really fitting properly into any social class, she is dragged hither and thither by groups of friends and relations, while being amorously pursued by a variety of men.  I really feel for Evelina.  Like me - and like many teenagers - she is shy and awkward in social situations. She wants to do the right thing, but struggles to decide what that might be, often inadvertently pushing away her real friends, particularly the long-suffering Lord Orville.  At her first ball, she first goes into fits of giggles over the foppish behaviour of Mr Lovel, then completely clams up at every attempt Lord Orville makes to start a conversation with her.  Sometimes, the sheer complexity of etiquette - and her shame at her own mistakes - reduces her to tears.  (I know exactly how she feels there; the same thing happened to me on my visit to Japan).  And yet she can be brave too, rescuing the depressed Mr Macartney from suicide, and finally facing up to her estranged father.

Lord Orville is one of my fictitious crushes.  Many of the aristocratic men Evelina encounters are driven more by lust than by love.  In 18th century society, a girl with "no family" is unlikely to be considered as a serious marriage prospect by the upper class, although she may be highly desirable as a mistress.  The business class men Evelina meets can be brash and take liberties with her.  Lord Orville rises above all this.  He is polite, caring, intelligent, has a sense of humour, and looks good on the dance floor.  But most of all, he's so sweet!  He really loves Evelina.  He says things like, "I am very sorry... that I have been so unfortunate as to distress you" (1).  He rushes to her lodgings to make sure she is all right after she has been coerced into a carriage with Sir Clement Willoughby.  He gets angry when he finds out his sister and friends have been treating Evelina with contempt.  I feel for him just as much as I do for Evelina when he can't understand why she keeps avoiding him, but doesn't want to ask her impertinent questions.  I'm sure a screen kiss between him and Evelina in the wedding carriage would be just as satisfying as the one between Elizabeth and Darcy in 1995.

I do feel a bit worried that anyone who wanted to adapt Evelina for the screen might want to change the characters of Evelina and Lord Orville, to make them more outgoing or more "modern".  But not enough to take back my opinion that it's way past time we had an on-screen Evelina.  Not everyone can cope with a 448-page 18th century epistolary novel.  But people across the world love to watch dramas in period settings, especially ones with a good love story.  So come on, Andrew Davies, Julian Fellowes and all you kings and queens of costume drama!  It's time for Evelina!  

(1).  Burney, Fanny, Evelina (1778) (Chalford: Nonsuch Publishing, 2007) p.330
Picture: illustration for Evelina by Hugh Thomson via Pinterest

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Karin Bachmann - A Blog Hop Interview

For my blog this week, I am proud to present a "blog hop" between myself and Swiss children's author Karin Bachmann.  Karin and I first met at Swanwick Writers Summer School about 10 years ago, and have been friends ever since.  We have each asked the other 14 questions.  To read Karin's questions for me, and my answers, go to Karin's blog 

Karin is the author of THE VENETIAN PEARLS, the first book in the N.C.D. Mystery series, and a number of short stories.  She also tweets for Swanwick Writers Summer School.  Karin lives in the canton of Berne, Switzerland.

Your blog is called Stories 4 7-77.  Can you explain that title to us?
I write mainly for children but occasionally also for adults. And don't we all love to listen to stories, no matter whether we are 7 or 77? I wanted the title of my blog to mirror that, hence "stories for seven to seventy-seven". To express that in numbers was actually my mother's idea.

On your blog, you are currently serialising Serena and the Knights of St. John, an exciting historical adventure.  Have you written many historical stories, and what periods of history do you like best?
History has always fascinated me. My father introduced me to Greek mythology when I was about five or six. There are many periods I love: Ancient Egypt, ancient Greece or Rome, the Middle Ages, and the 16th up to the 19th century with their great discoveries. You name it. I don't write a lot of historical adventures. But in the sequel to the PEARLS, THE GRANDMASTER'S SWORD on which I'm working, I use glimpses into different historical periods to show the course of the eponymous sword. It was great fun researching and writing those. I liked some of the minor characters in those historical scenes so much, that I decided to write SERENA AND THE KNIGHTS OF ST. JOHN as a spin-off.

What was the first story you ever had published?
It was an adventure/crime story for 8-12-year-olds called "Der Fall Mateo" (The Mateo Case). A hair rising story about an heir's abduction. In retrospect, I wonder how it was ever published. But then, I was only 16 when I wrote it.

You write detective stories for children.  Do you feel in touch with your inner child?
I'm afraid, I've never completely grown up. Sometimes I think writing, especially plotting, would be easier if I had. Often, my sense of adventure gets the better of me and the resulting plots have more holes than substance. 

Did you enjoy writing stories as a child, or was it something you came to as an adult?
I've always thought up stories for as long as I can remember. But only in my teens did I begin writing them down.

You do schools visits as a writer.  Has anything funny ever happened there?
They're always great fun and I marvel at the depth of the questions that come up. Often the kids try to sound "adult". One day, when I visited the same school for the second time within a week, I walked behind a child. When he heard my steps, he turned around and said, "Why, it's Ms Bachmann. Sorry I didn't recognise you at once. How are you today Ms Bachmann?" He sounded so grand and adult that it was hard to keep a straight face. I'm glad I managed it and was able to give him a suitable response because at the same time, his reaction was very flattering.

In your day job, you are an optician.  Does anything from your optician's life ever find its way into your stories?
Yes. My day job is a great source for building characters – not only the appearances but also character traits, gestures and figures of speech.

How do you fit writing into your daily life?
Sometimes with difficulty. I work 80%, which gives me an additional day to write, apart from at the weekend. I work long hours, so come home after seven pm. By the time I've cooked dinner and cleared the kitchen, I'm often too tired to write. I'd rather get up early on my days off and try to sit at the computer by eight am. On a good day, I write two hours in the morning and three to four in the afternoon. Unfortunately, there are also household chores to be done, but tedious work like vacuuming and ironing are great plotting time – so is commuting to work. 

You have just published a children's book, The Venetian Pearls, in English.  What affected your decision to do that, and was it difficult to do?
Why did I consider writing in English? Delusions of grandeur, most probably. To be frank, it was the English teacher I had in New Zealand who egged me on to try it, promising he'd correct everything I'd send him. (He's kept his promise up to the present day). Also, I learnt a lot about writing in English at the Swanwick Writers' Summer School. The support I found there also let me give writing in another language a try. I was also lucky to find a great mentor in a Swanwick friend. All that made the process much easier than it could have been without any help.

What is your favourite story or book that you have written?
It's a whodunit for 8-12-year-olds published in Switzerland called "Die Zirkusaffäre" (The Circus Mystery). I love the characters in it and think that – for once – I found a good balance between suspense and humour. 

You have been coming to Swanwick Writers' Summer School in England every year for several years now.  (And this year you won their Writing For Children competition) What do you get out of coming to the school?
Where to begin? Writing is a solitary business. It's fantastic to have a place where you can "talk business" all day long for almost a week without anybody's eyes glazing over. The people at Swanwick have all been there, made similar experiences and can give hands-on advice on just about every aspect of writing – not to mention a shoulder to lean or cry on if need be. 

What are you reading at the moment?
Usually, I read several books at the same time. One before going to bed, one while commuting and during the lunch break, and an eBook. 
I've just finished your SILVERHANDS and absolutely loved it! Now I've tackled the third part of the BARTIMAEUS trilogy as my night read. THE TV DETECTIVE by Simon Hall is riding on the train with me and THE IMPORTANCE OF WISDOM by Michael O'Byrne is my present e-read.

Most readers outside Switzerland don't know much about Swiss literature.  Do you have a favourite book by a Swiss author that you could recommend?
THE PLEDGE (Das Versprechen) by Friedrich Dürrenmatt is an absolute must-read. The complete Dürrenmatt, actually. Here's a writer who always confessed to not believing in justice on earth. And yet all his stories come to a satisfying and, in the wider sense of the word, just finish. 

How can readers get in touch with you?
You can find me on Twitter (@BookwormKarin), Google+ and, most recently, on LinkedIn. And, of course, you can contact me via my blog. I'm always happy to hear from readers.

I would like to thank Karin very much for coming up with this idea, and for answering my questions.
(Thank you for participating and for your interesting questions.)

Saturday, 6 September 2014

She Stoops to Conquer - with leopard breeches

Last night, as my wedding anniversary date, I went to see Northern Broadsides' production of She Stoops to Conquer at the Viaduct Theatre, Halifax, West Yorkshire.  I had never been to this theatre before; it is built under the arches of an actual old viaduct, a great place to watch historical plays.  As you can see from the photos we were allowed to take before the play, the audience sit on two sides of the stage.  Along with the wonderful scenery, this made it feel like sitting in an old inn yard theatre, which is especially good because the main plot of She Stoops to Conquer centres around the local squire's house being mistaken for an inn.

The play was one of the most enjoyable I have ever seen.  She Stoops to Conquer is a very funny play, full of disguises, mistaken identity and - ultimately - true love.  I know I had to read it at school once, but I didn't remember anything until it got to the part where the carriage is stuck in the horse pond. (Why did that stick in my memory?)  The actors were excellent, and the performance was delivered with roistering, 18th century liveliness.  As well as speaking their lines, the cast sang, danced and played musical instruments (including violin, cello, flute, piano, guitar and trumpet).  The music covered the full range of 18th century tunes, from country dances to drinking songs to opera, including a very funny rendition of the Papageno/Papagena song from Mozart's Magic Flute.

And so to the leopard breeches.  All the costumes were wonderful.  (Mrs Hardcastle's wig deserved a Hogarth engraving of its own).  But it was the costume for Tony Lumpkin, the prank-playing brother, that caught my eye on the poster before the play had even begun.  The costume designer, Jessica Worrall, had chosen to kit him out in leopard print waistcoat and breeches.  Some audience members might have thought this was simply Ms Worrall doing what she stated in the programme, "using references from noted eighteenth-century satirical cartoonists such as Gillray and Rowlandson and then giving them a modern edge with the use of some contemporary colours and fabrics".  But I remember well the Two Nerdy History Girls (whose blog is linked in the side panel) posting picture after picture of 18th century dandies sporting leopard breeches.  It was real!  And what a joy it was to see it in the flesh.  (Fur?)  

She Stoops to Conquer was a brilliant night out.  I got to welcome my husband into the 18th century world I inhabit every day.  And, as I remarked, our own courtship was only fractionally less complicated than the one in the play!